North Pole Ice Melting

North Pole Ice Melting

Scientists have recently conducted a fascinating study of the North Pole region. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. With North Pole ice melting, the question is, “What effect will this warming have on Earth’s climate?”

To investigate that question, The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) involved 600 scientists and experts from around the world. They equipped the icebreaker RV Polarstern with a large number of scientific tools and accommodations. The plan was to freeze the ship into an ice floe and let it drift for a year to study the North Pole’s climate as never before.

The scientists did much of the work on the ice floe itself, even setting up camp there. Sometimes they fell through but were saved by their protective flotation clothing. They gathered large amounts of data, which will take years to analyze thoroughly. It will give a wealth of scientific information about the changes that are taking place on our planet.

The team started the project in October of 2019, but by July 30, the floe had broken up, and the Polarstern was in open water. They decided to head directly to the North Pole. On August 19, still in open water, the ship arrived at the pole and found very little ice.

Summer of 2020 ranks as the hottest ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. It may seem that the North Pole ice melting is too far away to cause concern for us, but changes of this magnitude at the pole will bring changes in weather all over the globe.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Discover magazine, January/February, 2021.

Squid Communication by Bioluminescence

Squid Communication by Bioluminescence

Several Bible passages encourage us to look at the creation around us and know there is a God by what He has made. Romans 1:20 says, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” We can see the power and nature of God by looking at the things in the natural world all around us. One of those things is squid communication by bioluminescence.

Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) living 1500 feet (457 m) below the ocean’s surface in total darkness hunt for food in groups. These are big animals averaging six feet (1.8 m) long, but they don’t bump into each other. Recent research has shown that Humboldt squid use squid communication by bioluminescence. The squid have small light-producing organs in their muscle tissue, and they can convey information by changing the pigmentation pattern.

Scientists from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute say that what these squid do is similar to humans using turn signals in traffic. But even more than that, they can use changes in pigmentation patterns in a way similar to how humans arrange words in a sentence. Ben Buford of Stanford says that this is an example of a complicated form of animal communication never seen before in deep-sea creatures.

The more we learn about creation, the more we see complexity and design that speaks of a Creator who built into every animal the tools for survival. Squid communication by bioluminescence is just one more evidence of design. Indeed we can know there is a God through the things He has made.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, February/March 2021, page 8.

Designed for Fellowship

Designed for Fellowship

Sometimes evidence of God’s design in our lives shows up in unusual places. A recent example of that is a study by neuroscientist Livia Tomova and her associates at MIT that showed we were designed for fellowship.

The study involved 40 people who were required to fast for 10 hours. Then the researchers showed them pictures of pizza and chocolate cake and recorded the brain waves from the midbrain of the subjects. Several days later, they took the same 40 people and did not allow them to have any contact with other people for 10 hours. That meant no friends, no Facebook, no Instagram, no social contact. Then the researchers showed them pictures of people chatting or playing team sports. The brain waves showed the same response as they had for food deprivation.

The area of the brain the researchers studied plays an essential role in human desire for food, friends, drugs, or gambling. The research indicates that humans are designed for fellowship. The effects on people who are socially isolated by COVID-19 are significant. It may explain some behavior issues that researchers have noted. Social isolation puts both mental and physical health at stake. It can even leave people craving for more food, drugs, or gambling.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that when God created Adam, He recognized “It is not good that the man should be alone…” Humans are designed to be social in our base nature. We may think that we like to be alone, but the reality is that eventually, we all need contact with other humans.

After a period of isolation, all of us need to be with other people. The biblical model of the Church is that “when two or three are gathered together” in the name of Jesus, He is there also (Matthew 18:20). One of the frustrations associated with the pandemic is not being able to be with other people who share our convictions and values. We are designed for fellowship with others. That is the way God created us.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News January 16, 2021, page 5.

Flu Cases Are Down

Flu Cases Are Down

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) released its report on the flu cases in the early part of this winter. They reported that in the United States, cases of the flu were down 98%. Almost all of this report’s data was gathered before any COVID vaccine was available, although regular flu vaccinations were the highest on record. However, flu shots alone are not enough to explain why flu cases are down so much.

The CDCP attributes the decrease in flu cases to the following:

1) Mask wearing.

2) Fewer people traveling

3) COVID prevention measures such as working from home and school closings

4) Flu shots

It would appear that flu cases are down because of some of the things we don’t like about the COVID-19 pandemic. We should keep that in mind to say healthy in the future.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: NBCNews.com and the Week, January 22, 2021.

Invasion of Amoral Intelligence!

Invasion of Amoral Intelligence!

Recently there have been many articles and news stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some leading scientists are worried about what may happen in the future as machines or robots become available with higher levels of AI. Already we have “Weak AI” with computers and phones speaking in human-sounding voices and answering our questions. The next step is “Artificial General Intelligence.” That would be a general-purpose speaking machine that can think and perform specific tasks better and faster than humans. The main concern here is the loss of jobs that humans now perform. Perhaps we need to be concerned about an invasion of amoral intelligence.

What worries or even frightens some experts in the field is “Artificial Superintelligence.” We are talking about an artificial intellect that could outperform the most brilliant human minds, achieve new levels of creativity on its own, and display social skills that could not you could not distinguish from humans. It would be able to continue learning at a fantastic speed, shape its own future, and act in its own interest. Its desires and motivations could be very different from the interests of its creators or humanity as a whole. It could develop its own agenda even to the destruction of humans. This is the stuff of science fiction movies, and the current prediction is that somewhere between 2040 and 2050, science could achieve this level of AI.

Human life is guided by a conscience that our Creator put into us. Every human being recognizes that there are moral values and that some things are right and good and other things are wrong and evil. No matter if this moral sense becomes distorted by teaching, experiences, or even mental illness, it is still there. Even an atheist such as Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has some limits, even though he argues that humans are just animals not deserving status above any other species and that parents should have a month to decide whether to keep or euthanize their newborn children. That seems like a shocking moral code, but an Artificial Superintelligence would not necessarily have even those moral limitations.

Humans have a built-in moral quality because God created us in His image. The result of humans making a machine with superhuman thinking abilities and no moral conscience should cause us to step back and carefully consider the possible invasion of amoral intelligence.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

The ancient Israelites’ diet consisted of very little meat, and most of that came from animals they raised. That was not true in the rest of the world. For many people in China and Africa, survival meant hunting animals and using them for food. We now know that many of the animals people ate were intermediate hosts for viruses. A virus can exist for many generations in a wild animal and mutate until it can jump to human populations, creating zoonotic diseases. The list of viral and bacterial diseases that have originated in wildlife grows constantly. A partial list includes SARS, MERS, Ebola, AIDS, Zika, Lyme Disease, rabies, swine flu, and COVID-19.

Wet markets, common in parts of Asia and Africa, are a significant source of zoonotic diseases. There animals, including rats, snakes, birds, bats, and monkeys, are kept in cages and killed when people purchase them for food. The filthy environment allows saliva, urine, and feces to become mixed with the blood of animals slaughtered on the spot. Experts say 376 wildlife species are known hosts to zoonotic pathogens, and at least 700,000 different viruses have the potential to jump to human populations. Christian Walzer, executive director of health for the Wildlife Conservation Society, calls wet markets “cauldrons of contagion.”

In Old Testament times, the Jews had very strict rules about what meat they could eat and how to prepare it. One of the priest’s jobs was to inspect the meat that people consumed to make sure it conformed to specific rules preventing zoonotic diseases. That was the world in which Christianity began, and early Christians benefitted from the rules they inherited. The instruction of the apostles was not to eat blood or animals that had been strangled. (See Acts 15:20,29 and Acts 21:25.)

In Acts 10:11-16, we read the account of God telling Peter, “What God has cleansed you should not call common.” The message was that all people are precious to God, but it also implied that there was no longer religious significance to eating the meat of various animals. The dietary laws that God gave Israel centuries before were “nailed to the cross” of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). However, what is religiously acceptable is not always biologically advisable.

It seems that the battle of the 21st century may be zoonotic diseases caused by eating animals that carry viruses to which humans are not immune. There were good hygienic reasons for the instructions God gave to ancient Israel.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March, 2021 pages 22–29.

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

One of the ecological issues of recent years has been the role of invasive species and how they affect local birds and mammals. Recent studies show that berries produced by native plants are best for birds. Besides that, the birds prefer local varieties over the fruits of introduced species.

Studies of native bayberries have shown that they contain more fats, carbohydrates, and nutrients that birds need to survive. Amanda Gallinat of Utah State University said that invasive fruits are usually nutrient-poor. For people who enjoy watching birds, that is something to keep in mind when choosing plants for their yards.

Viburnums such as arrow-wood viburnum produce berries that are high in fats and carbohydrates, which help birds prepare for making long migration flights. For birds that stay around in the cold weather, another factor that favors native plants is how long they hang on to their berries. Winterberry is a native holly that can hold its berries well into the cold months.

When you talk about the design built into the migrations and lives of birds, it is not just the birds’ design but also the design of the nutritional system that supports them. Native plants are best for birds because they often give the birds better nutritional support than species brought in from other areas of the world.

God’s design for life is best, but humans often introduce non-native plants and animals that sometimes become invasive species. People may introduce non-native species with good intentions, or perhaps invasive species arrive by accident with foreign cargo. Either way, we must learn to be better stewards of the planet over which God gave us dominion. (See Genesis 1:28.)

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife, February-March 2021, page 12.

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

We humans don’t always like the winter snow for its inconvenience and sometimes safety threat. For many animals, the snow-cover makes winter the best time of year. Scientists who study life in this seasonal microenvironment under the snow call it the subnivium ecosystem. It allows many species of plants and animals to exist that could not survive without snow.

The first scientific writings about the subnivium world were circulated by a lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) named Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov was investigating butterflies whose caterpillars eat plants known as blue lupines. These butterflies lay their eggs on the stems of the lupines a few inches above the ground. When snow covers the area, the eggs are protected from the very low temperatures of the mountains where the butterflies live. Scientists conducted a study of those same butterflies in 2019 when there was a significant decrease in the snow cover. They found a 43% decrease in the number of butterflies produced.

This is just one example of life in the subnivium ecosystem. Ruffed grouse burrow into the snow at night and stay in an igloo-like area that can be 50 degrees warmer than the outside air. In wintertime, a surprising number of animals live in the warmer subnivium ecosystem. Wolverines, martens, voles, mice, shrews, red squirrels, and even bears take advantage of heavy snow cover. The protection of snow allows abundant life at high elevations and in polar areas.

Every part of Earth is home to living things because of the design of the animals and plants and the design of water that gives snow thermodynamic properties. It is easy to overlook the statement God made to Job about “the treasures of the snow” (Job 38:22). The simplicity of those words describes a whole world of life in the subnivium ecosystem and the treasure of water stored on snow-covered mountains. The treasure house of snow speaks of the intelligence built into every corner of creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March 2021.

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

One of the things that has entered the debate about life in space has been the presence of water. Astronomers have found methane, ethane, and other compounds in oceans on other planets and moons in our solar system. Unlike water, they are not polar molecules. The polar structure of water makes it an apparent necessity for life. Scientists have debated about whether water has existed or does now exist on Mars, our Moon, or one of the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now there is evidence of massive amounts of water in our solar system.

We have posted before about NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website (apod.nasa.gov). On January 15, 2021, the page showed this picture taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, as it flew by Pluto. The photograph shows areas of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It also shows massive amounts of water ice frozen into mountains reaching up to 11,000 feet (3,353 m), which is comparable to mountains on Earth.

There is more and more evidence that, at least in our solar system, water is quite common. Because of the temperatures in the outer planets, that water is in a frozen state. Liquid water has a very narrow range of temperatures, and that means the zone in which a planet can have liquid water is very small. Because of that, life on another planet is improbable, but the potential for humans establishing or supporting life elsewhere is relatively high.

Verse two of Genesis 1 tells us that the early Earth had water in the liquid state: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Massive amounts of water apparently dominated the planet. Verse six tells us that there was “a firmament in the midst of the waters” that divided the waters. It isn’t until verse nine that dry land appears. The keyword in these verses is the word translated firmament in English. The Hebrew word used here is “raqia.” It is used nine times in Genesis 1 and eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Four of those eight are in the visions of Ezekiel 1:22-26.

The Bible’s economy of language leaves us to understand the “firmament” from its context. The most accurate understanding is what, in modern terms, we would call an “interface,” a zone of change. In many cases, that zone is the atmosphere, so in verse 20 of Genesis chapter one, we have birds flying in the firmament. Genesis 1:14-15 tells us that the Sun and the Moon became visible as the darkness (Genesis 1:2) of the cloud cover (Job 38:8-9) in the firmament cleared. Ezekiel saw his chariots in the firmament.

The discovery of mountains of frozen water elsewhere in the solar system indicates that the original cosmos had massive amounts of water, as Genesis 1:6 implies. It also tells us that when the Earth’s temperatures settled to between zero and 100 degrees Celsius, the water became seas covering the planet. This is one more evidence for the integrity of the Genesis account as it describes the creative design of God, simplified so that all humans can understand it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Bloodletting – Life Is In the Blood

Bloodletting – Life Is In the Blood

For almost 2000 years, from ancient Greece to the nineteenth-century, the most common procedure performed by surgeons was bloodletting. The doctors would cut the patient to allow blood to drain because they thought this would drain disease from the body. In truth, if it didn’t kill the patients, bloodletting at least left them weaker. The medical establishment didn’t realize that life is in the blood.

Even though William Harvey disproved the effectiveness of bloodletting in 1628, doctors (and barbers) still practiced it for another 200 years. It can take a long time for false ideas to be abandoned, even by doctors and scientists. In some areas such as China and the Middle East, people still practice a form of bloodletting today known as hijama or cupping.

While they were still practicing bloodletting, doctors began to experiment with blood transfusions. Early experiments in the seventeenth-century involved transfusions of animal blood into humans, usually with disastrous results. Doctors didn’t realize that there are different blood types among humans and even among animals. Different blood types have a different molecular structure in the red blood cells. If a patient is given blood of the wrong type, it can cause a reaction that can be fatal, because the patient’s immune system attacks the foreign blood cells as invaders.

In 1901 Karl Landsteiner found that mixing blood from different patients sometimes caused clotting. This led him to classify blood into three types—A, B, and O. Scientists have discovered more blood groups since then, making transfusions much safer today.

If those who practiced bloodletting had paid more attention to the Bible, they might have realized much sooner that it was a bad idea. “The life of every creature is in the blood” is stated twice in Leviticus 17 verses 11 and 14. With that admonition, God commanded the ancient Israelites to refrain from eating blood and to sacrifice the blood of animals to cover their sins. But the final redemption for sins came when “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood” (Romans 3:25). Life is in the blood, and eternal life is in the blood of Christ.

— Roland Earnst © 2021